The other day I thought that maybe some of the readers of this blog is contemplating whether they should invest in an external flash or not. I’ll provide my view on that and hopefully help your decision along.
We won’t be looking at any interesting shots today, instead I’ve included a shot that isn’t much more than a simple snapshot from our trip to Stockholm a few weeks ago. These are fairly typical conditions for your general holiday snapshot; middle of the day and bright sun, not ideal for a good photo. If your subject faces the sun you’ll end up with almost completely closed eyes and a rather unflattering expression. If you put the sun behind the subject you’ll end up with a dark face while the background is blown. The solution? Flash.
Some of you may be wondering if the popup flash on the camera isn’t enough. Well, it depends. When you just need a hint of fill and are standing close to the subject it might do the trick. However, if you’re a bit farther from the subject and the sun is bright (usually is, kind of what it does best) you just won’t get enough power. In the shots below you can see the before and after effect of adding a flash. Now, please bear in mind that this isn’t a good shot, I kind of nuked my wife a bit too hard and the light is a bit too frontal, but it still serves to illustrate my point. The thing that’s of interest here is that the flash isn’t located on the camera, it’s just to camera right. I found a log where I could balance it, just to avoid making the light full frontal. That’s something you can’t do with the popup flash, even if it would have enough power. The popup does serve a purpose though, I’m using it to trigger the external flash via its optical slave; no cables, no expensive radio triggers.
This is dead simple as well, anyone can do it. Even better if you have another relative or something with you who can hold the flash for you. Again, don’t look too much at the quality of this shot (it really is quite bad), just realize how easily that flash can improve even a simple snapshot. Of course you can also use it on camera and bounce it off walls and ceilings but using it outside in bright sunlight might not be something that would occur to everyone.
Conclusion? If you want a lot of bang for your buck, definitely consider investing in an external flash. Experiment with it and see what it’s capable off. It doesn’t have to cost a lot either, at least if you don’t mind going manual, which really isn’t a very big deal. When I first got interested in photography I thought that natural light was always the best light and would never consider using a flash if I could avoid it in any way. Now you’ll be hard pressed to find a single photo I take that isn’t using flash in one way or the other – it could potentially change the way you approach photography in a big way. Or you can just use it to occasionally improve the quality of your holiday snapshots. This flexibility certainly makes it a worthy investment.